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United Farm Workers send scathing letter to Mayor of Grand Rapids

March 30, 2016

Two weeks we wrote an article that was critical of the Cesar Chavez march held on Thursday, March 17 in Grand Rapids.  Last week we wrote a piece on intimidation tactics being used against GVSU students standing in solidarity with Grand Rapids transit workers. This week, Grand Rapids is getting the attention from two national civil rights and civil liberties organizations. United-Farm-Workers-Logo-300x300

The national office of the United Farm Workers has sent a scathing letter to the Mayor of Grand Rapids, Rosalynn Bliss.

Bliss, who was at the front of the Cesar Chavez march last Thursday, received a letter from the President of the United Farm Workers, Arturo Rodriguez.

On behalf of the more than 10,000 members of the United Farm Workers, I am writing to express our deep disappointment in the breathtaking hypocrisy demonstrated by your administration this past week. On Thursday, March 17, you marched under our banner to commemorate the work of an American icon and our founder, Cesar Chavez. The very next day, on Friday, March 18, you dispatched Grand Rapids Police to the homes of student activists to intimidate them for organizing a January sit in to support transit workers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 836.

You cannot march in the name of Cesar Chavez one day and use police officers to suppress all that he fought for the next. The United Farm Workers stands in solidarity with our ATU brothers and sisters struggling to preserve their retirement security and the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) who, in an inspiring acts of selflessness, have embraced their elders fight as their own.

I also write to call you to a higher purpose than implementing an austerity agenda that may win accolades from the comfortable, but will destroy the lives of the constituents who are counting on you the most. We ask that you adopt the spirit of our heroes – Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. – whose names adorn your city streets and parks by rejecting the tactics who opposed and oppressed them in their lifetimes.

The letter from the United Farm Workers is dated March 25.

On the same day, Mayor Bliss received another letter from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation. That letter states in part:

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation strongly condemns the ongoing campaign of intimidation against transit workers and students in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The struggle for workers rights has always been closely aligned with the struggle for free speech. We honor the commitment of these students and workers to speak truth to power, and deplore the tactics employed by the City and the transit agency to silence them.screen-shot-2016-03-23-at-7-37-27-am

In January, Grand Valley State United Students Against Sweatshops staged a day of actions in support of the ATU workers. These actions included both a fare strike and a sit-in. The sit-in took place at a public meeting of the transit authority and was made up of mostly students and community supporters. Students report that the plan was to stage the sit-in when the transit authority moved from public session to executive session and leave when asked to do so by the police. Although police were present, at no point did they ask the protesters to leave and the protesters ultimately left of their own accord.

On Friday March 18–nearly two months later–police showed up at the doors of the students and a worker who participated in the sit-in, asking them questions about fellow activists, and telling them they might at some point in the future be arrested over the sit- in. The baffling and quite frankly absurd nature of this train of events indicates that the police have very little interest in actual law enforcement and are merely attempting to intimidate students and workers from participating in protest actions. In a free society, law enforcement is not used to silence dissent. Such actions are intolerable.

To view both letters in their entirety, click here

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